Archive for the 'pig brain' Category



just because

A few weeks ago I was talking to my mother, lamenting the quality of plain old cotton dish towels. I’m spoiled, see, because way back (and I do mean way back) when I moved away from home into my first apartment, I was granted a stack of my grandmother’s hand embroidered flour sack dish towels. At first I just thought they were cute. A little salt dish, three kittens frolicking, a cheery teapot. They made dish drying an event.

salty-dogs

But over the years, as Grandma Myrtle’s flour sacks have become stained and thread bare, a few brand spankin’ new towels have made their way into my kitchen drawer. And I just need to ask, at what point in our history did dish towels stop absorbing water? The new towels seem to excel at spreading a thin film of water over the dishes. Whats more, they’re boring. Hence the grumbling to my mother.

I really had no motive. It was just honest complaining. But last Friday, there was an unexpected package in the mailbox. It was soft and had a nice weight to it. Like all unexpected packages, I let it sit on the table a while before opening it. That’s half the fun of an unexpected package, after all. When my anticipation meter was sufficiently pegged, I slit the tape and (surprise!) was greeted with a gently used stack of Myrtle’s handiwork. I didn’t know there were any left after all of these years. My mom has been holding out on me.

monday

But she made up for it by sending me a “days of the week” set of towels. Each one features a perky dog undertaking a daily scheduled activity. There’s the market on Thursday, cleaning on Friday, and baking on Saturday (cupcakes even!). Sunday is church, of course, followed by laundry on Monday, which naturally leads to ironing on Tuesday.  But that’s where the fun stops. There were only six towels in the package. What the hell am I supposed to do on Wednesday?

My mother’s theory, based on the note she enclosed, is that Wednesday must simply be a day off. I do not buy this. Is it gardening? Mending? Canning? Or maybe Wednesday is the day set aside for painstakingly embroidering inanimate objects onto dish towels, using no less than three thread colors per towel. The fact that women of my grandmother’s era routinely did this stuns me. And it actually leaves me feeling a wee bit envious.

How rich to have the skill, the time, and the patience to embellish something that could just as easily be left plain. And why? Just because, I’m guessing. To prove you can transform a cut up flour sack into a bonafide kitchen towel worthy of display. Finding a treasure on Etsy can’t possibly compare in the satisfaction department. I examine Myrtle’s neat, precise little stitches and feel a little gyped.

busy-dog

I am pretty confident that my grandma’s plate was as chock full of things to get done as mine is, probably more so when you really get down to it. So I long to know how she made time for all the little “just because” things. The things you don’t have to do, but that leave you feeling better if you do. The things that put an extra little shine on our day. The things that are easy to forget about when we get busy.

However she pulled it off, it seems worth exploring. Maybe I’ll rustle up one of Myrtle’s old embroidery hoops so I can make a proper towel for Wednesday. My stitching skills are dreadful I’m sure, and life would certainly forge on without it, but isn’t that exactly the point? In our age of modern convenience and instant gratification it’s nice to remember that the process can outshine the outcome.

bake-on

raw reality

Man. Does this happen every April? I am in a funk to beat all funks. (Ask me if the latest streak of grey, 25ºF, damp days is helping.) But, I shouldn’t complain. At least I’m cozy and well fed. Which is more than I can say for my neighborhood deer friends. They are, in a word, frantic. This year’s snow came early and stayed late. It’s not uncommon to find 5 or 6 deer piled together in a patch of bare ground the size of a hula hoop. Nor is it unusual to see them darting across roadways or staggering into the streets, looking dazed and drunk from hunger. 

lake-superior-in-april

Their erratic behavior has put me on high alert during my daily commute. “Must not smuck deer friends, must not smuck…” is my new driving mantra. My 26 year career behind the wheel has been a lucky one. I’ve had relatively few run-ins with cars or wildlife. But the few times I have is enough to make me want to turn in my keys for good. It’s awful. And gut wrenching.

Even more so, I learned last week, if you are driving in a post-yoga class, blissed out state of mind. I was nearly home, feeling triumphant, having successfully made it through the white knuckle stretch Mark and I call “deer alley.” But on my very last hill I found myself simultaneously slamming on the brakes and veering into a snow bank. There was the horrible, unmistakable thud and my eyes locked with a deer’s – inches from my windshield. We tied, I’m sure, for whose eyes held the most panic.

While I was busy plowing into a snow bank, the deer managed to bounce off my front end, stumble, and miraculously dart back into the woods. And just like that, it was over. We all survived (I hope) but my bliss meter had gone from full to empty. I limped the rest of the way home, feeling helpless. It doesn’t matter the circumstances – causing harm to anything makes me feel like I have way overstepped my bounds.

Mark reminded me that deer are tough and resilient. He said I’d probably be more stiff and sore in the morning than the deer. And he might have been right. Then he went back to collect missing car parts. I rummaged through the freezer to try and pull something together for dinner. Still thinking of the deer, I was feeling especially blessed that I have a freezer of food to rummage through. I pulled out a carton of last summer’s sweet corn and a half used bag of chick pea flour.

fritter-spice

Sweet corn fritters via the River Cottage VEG cookbook just might do the trick. Fast, lightly fried, mildly spicy, all with a tinge of summer sweetness. Unapologetic comfort food. As I was dropping the first round of fritters into the fry pan, my e-mail pinged at me. I absentmindedly perused my inbox and for the second time that night was jolted into a raw reality. The message was from a life-long friend. It was surprisingly upbeat given the terribly sad and tragic news it contained. I felt hot tears on my cheeks. Fritters were not, after all, going to do the trick. I kept my post at the stove anyway. But with an incurable knot in my stomach.

The deer, and quite obviously my friend, have stayed with me all week. I’ve been wrestling with things that I don’t understand. Big emotions that have no cure. My only solution has been to try and practice santosha – one of the guiding principles of yoga that roughly translates to experiencing contentment in any situation. Not just under mundane circumstances, or even easier, during situations that generally make us happy – but any time, and all the time. Not so easy when we’re uncomfortable and scared. Yet attempting to find this unconditional peace – by sort of settling and breathing into the sadness, is the only thing that has brought me solace this week.

corn-fritters

My unending gratitude to the instructors at Humble Be Yoga who continually fill me, both physically and spiritually.

Sweet Santosha Corn Fritters
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal’s River Cottage Veg

1 1/4 cups chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
dash of ground cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
10 ounces frozen sweet corn
3 green onions, chopped
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 jalepeño chopped, with seeds if you like heat
1/3 cup plain kefir (or milk)
1/3 cup water
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Cilantro Raita

3/4 cup plain greek (or thick) yogurt
2 1/2 ounces soft goat cheese (chev)
small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
flaked sea salt and peeper to taste

Combine the raita ingredients and let sit.

For the fritters, sift together dry ingredients into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, except kefir/milk and water. Mix well and slowly stir in the kefir and water until there are no lumps.

Heat about a 1/2-inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan – the fritters shouldn’t touch. Cook about 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on a paper towel while continuing to cook remaining batter.

Serve warm, toped with a healthy dollop of the raita and sriracha or tabasco. (serves 4)

*A few notes: you can also use fresh mint for the raita. For the fritters, it is worth seeking out the chickpea flour. The nutty favor of it works magic with the sweet corn and spices. Bob’s Red Mill brand is pretty widely available. You can also use all kefir, all milk, or all water for the liquid. I love the extra tang that kefir adds.

santosha-bowl

confidence boost

Well, here we are a solid week into Spring. And while I wouldn’t exactly say that the melt is on, we have at least had a handful of days above freezing. Which has given me a chance to sneak out to my bees for the first check of the year. I haven’t lifted their covers off since October – five long months ago. And unlike most winters, I’ve barely even been out to put my ear against the hives for a telltale, hopeful listen.

winter-bees

Which means that I was especially wound up on my drive over to the bee yard. I was fairly confident that I left both hives with enough of honey for their winter food supply. But I’m also painfully aware at what a remarkably harsh winter its been. Even if a hive has enough honey, if it is too cold for too long, individual bees won’t be able to break away from their big cluster to access it.

I also knew that one of the hives – the reinging Queen Ella-Bella – went into the winter with a slightly smaller population than is ideal. True, fewer bees means less mouths to feed, but the hive also needs critical mass to maintain a cozy interior hive temperature of roughly 80º F. The bees achieve this by banding together in a big clump and literally shivering their flight muscles all winter long. No rest for the weary, I tell you.

fall-cluster

Since it was my first formal visit to the hives, I decided I had better bring gifts. I’d been away five months after all – it just didn’t seem right to show up empty handed. I didn’t know if the hives had survived or not, but I wasn’t in the mood to take chances. I reasoned that if they were still living, they are most likely starting to run low on honey. So I mixed up a fondant like ”candy board” for each hive. Which is basically a cooked sticky mixture of sugar, water, and vinegar.

I also mashed together a pollen substitute. If things were going according to plan in the hives, the queens started laying new eggs back in February. But developing larvae need pollen in their diet. And if my phenology records are to be trusted, it will be mid to late April before the maple trees are budding and even longer until the dandelions are blooming. And this particular “Spring” doesn’t seem to want to play along. Things could get ugly.

I got to the bee yard and awkwardly hobbled over snow drifts, clutching my my sugar cakes and pollen patties for fear they fall and disappear into the abyss. Ordinarily I start my hive check with the most easterly hive, but since I was nervous and wanted a confidence boost, I decided to look in on the stronger of the two hives first. I pried the lid off Hallie Frances’s hive and to my sheer delight, a handful of bee friends – albeit slightly stunned – buzzed up to greet me. My heart literally leapt. I resisted the urge to pull out an entire frame for a better look. Because even though it was technically above freezing, it was also snowing. I plunked down their sugar and pollen treats, ushered a few strays back into the hive, and sealed them back up.

winter-cluster

I sank deep down into a snow bank and sighed with relief. Hallie’s hive looked amazing. Her large population of bees will almost certainly need to be split into another hive later this spring. That’s the best any beekeeper can hope for. Even if EB’s hive hadn’t made it, I knew I would still have two hives of bees to keep company with this summer. I wrestled myself free and held my breath as I proceeded on to the second hive. I popped the lid and found another bunch of buzzing bees. The clump was much smaller, but Ella’s girls were hanging on!

I drove home with a grin on my face, bursting to share my good news with someone. I e-mailed my beekeeping friend (and source of both of these hives) Kris with the late winter bee report. I knew she’d understand. And she did. She replied back saying that my news was like getting an overseas letter from someone dear and feeling so relieved that everyone is still okay. Which really struck me. Because in this day and age, waiting for an overseas letter doesn’t really happen anymore, does it?

Kris’s comment reminded me that we live in a society that is increasing losing its ability to wait, its capacity to simply not know. And for the umpteenth time since I started keeping bees, I understood that the bees were teaching me something I should pay attention to. They were showing me of the value of uncertainty. That not only is it okay to wait and wonder, it’s often immensely more rewarding to do so. Of course, it can also be more heart wrenching, but either way, I’d argue the waiting – if we let it – takes us to a deeper, more meaningful place within ourselves. The practice of not knowing keeps us hopeful and raw and real.

And you know what else? I’m learning that it’s okay to live with  a little anxiety. Healthy even. Every bit of the the type A-ness in me wants to squelch it out, but my itty-bitty bee brain tells me to let it rest. To hover around it, invite it in, and let it breathe a bit. Because sometimes, living with a little unease is the best way to learn about who we are and why. And the more we understand and respect that, the better we can be for one another.

spring-nuc-cluster

(The photos in this post show Hallie Frances’s hive just starting out in May 2013 (bottom), in October 2013 after a summer’s worth of work (top), and March 2014 on the tail end of  a long, cold winter.)

dabbler to devotee

I am not a morning person. My whole life I’ve wanted to be a morning person. It sounds so lovely to get up and greet the dawn with clarity and vigor. I’ve tried, believe me. But forty two years into it, I can say –  with certainty – that I am not a morning person. I’m not a cranky morning person, mind you. I’m just a tired morning person. There is no clarity and no vigor.

south-dakota-sunrise

Such as it is, I make it a point to turn in early for a good night’s sleep on Thursdays. Just so I can get up early enough every Friday to walk the dog, steep a cup of tea, find my yoga pants, and scramble out the door for an 8 am class at Humble Be. I know, I know – those of you who are lucky enough to be morning people are scoffing at this. It’s hardly the break of dawn. But those, like myself, whose witching hour starts at 9 pm, will understand. It goes against our nature. It’s hard.

Still, this Friday morning yoga class is the highlight of my week. The experience is so completely nourishing that by the end of class, I’ve nearly forgotten I’m not a morning person. Really I get this same groovy vibe with all  of the classes I take at Humble Be, it’s just the Friday morning class stands out. Because it’s really something to walk out the studio’s big wooden door after class and greet the rest of Friday with clarity and vigor. This is as close as I will come to achieving morning person status.

Until relatively recently, I considered myself a yoga dabbler. I’ve tried a variety of classes in a variety of places and have even cobbled together and on-and-off-again home practice. I essentially started doing yoga as a way to move my body and stay flexible. But my Humble Be experience has turned my yoga world upside down. I’ve gone from dabbler to devotee. I’m not just practicing yoga to move my body anymore. I’m doing it to move my mind and my breath too.

I’m a regular at several Humble Be yoga classes and I’ve come to truly appreciate how seamless and well thought out their classes are. Humble Be instructors consistently offer me a richness that my home practice lacks. A windy afternoon, for example, might inspire Kellie to talk about the push and the pull of daily life and the importance of being able to draw it all in. She’ll then devote the next 75 minutes to poses that focus on using the body’s core to help balance opposing forces that work against the body. It seems so subtle at the time, but two weeks later when I’m being yanked all willy-nilly in ten different directions, I’ll gratefully recall how I can use my body and mind to reign it all in.

stromy-weather

Likewise, I’m constantly reminded in classes how I can use my breath to calm myself down when I’m worked up, anxious, or frustrated. Just a few weeks ago, on my first bad weather drive of the season, I had four hours to play with a breathing technique I learned from Scott. And it worked! The deliberate pause at the top and bottom of each breath got me home. Humble Be classes encourage me to slow down and cultivate mindfulness. And it goes without saying that a regular practice has left me stronger, more flexible, and better balanced. Talk about a package deal.

Yoga can mean a lot of different things to people, but for me, Humble Be yoga helps define how I travel through each day. I may think I’m just popping into the studio for a quick class to stretch out, but inevitably, some little bit of teaching sticks with me well after my mat is rolled up. And my life is all the richer for it. Blessed be Humble Be.

turtle tally

This has been a whacky, lark of a summer to be sure. I’m currently trying to block out the fact that a trip to the Minnesota State Fair is simply not in my cards this year. The last of the garlic crop just recently made it’s way into the curing shed – a record late harvest. I was stunned to find myself picking and freezing snap peas well into the second week of August. Peas! In August! Meanwhile I cannot grow a zucchini this summer to save my life. And clearly I have not been in the pig pen writing nearly as much as I like.

aglio-rossa garlic

About the only constant this summer held was my highly anticipated respite to the Boundary Waters. It’s the one week I count on to let my body work and my mind rest. And this year’s trip couldn’t come soon enough.

Rounding up the necessary gear and preparing food for the trail has become such a systematic ritual that I can generally do all of the preparations in less than a day. But the one thing that always stumps me is what to read on the trail. I’ve finally broken myself of the habit of bringing more than one book, so the one I choose needs to be just right. Engaging enough so I’ll stay awake for a chapter or two after a day of paddling, but not so gripping that I hover in my sleeping bag with a head lamp for half the night. Ideally it should be just the right length – certainly not so short that I finish before the end of the trip, but anything much over just means extra weight to portage. The older I get, the more this matters.

I stopped by our used bookstore a few days before the trip and found a handful of contenders. In the end, I settled on Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. I’m sure I must have read this classic in high school, but with all due respect Mrs. Richardson, I have absolutely no recollection of it. It was a tad on the thin side, but I decided to risk it. And I’m glad I did. Cather swept me straight away to a simpler, slower – albeit harder – time on the plains.

Only fourteen pages in and I bonded hard with little Jimmy Burden who had just been spit out onto his grandparents’ farm in Nebraska.

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin…The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

I was struck that wilderness camping – living outdoors, pairing down necessities to the essentials, and simply focusing on the day’s journey – brings me true, entire happiness. And, like Jim experienced in the pumpkin patch, I do not crave anything more. Living like this, even if only for a week, sheds everything that isn’t real. There is no time for things that deliver false or partial happiness. Turning up a tube of lip balm to meet cracked, weathered lips is happiness. Watching an orange sun rise through a filmy mist on the water is happiness. Diving into the tent to escape a relentless cloud of mosquitos is happiness.

canoeing

Every trip to the Boundary Waters reminds me of how surprisingly simple it can be to let ourselves experience complete contentedness. Camping certainly isn’t everybody’s trigger, but we all have one. It’s just a matter of knowing how to access it.

For me it is the uncomplicated lifestyle that camping delivers. It makes for a challenging reentry into the “real world” when your biggest responsibility for a week is to keep a daily turtle tally. Still it’s a job I indulge in thoroughly. Turtles are notoriously bashful. The key to spotting them is to be quiet and move slowly, just like a turtle. No matter how turtle-like you become though, you can only get so close before a sunning turtle scuttles from its perch and plops into the safety of the cool water. These turtles, I’m certain, know what it means to be dissolved into something complete and great. When things get hard, I try and imagine my life as a turtle.

turtle

This year’s turtle total was eight, a little low, but still respectable. Number seven the only one who wasn’t camera shy. But all eight of them reminded me to live deliberately, to soak it in, and to not want to be anything more.

sunset

clutter and fluff

I’ve sort of been on an unintended hiatus. Everything is fine, but the problem is that I’ve gone and gotten myself into an introspective hole. Those of you who know me well might be scratching your heads, wondering how this is different than normal. But I dove deep this time. Too deep almost, to write. I’m just now coming up for air.

stoked

I blame this unexpected episode on my approaching birthday. It’s not really getting older that has me all wound up. But it does have to do with the age I’m about to turn. Forty two. I’ve anticipated this birthday for a long time. If you’ve read Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” you will recall that 42 is the Answer. But of course (as our heros learn) the crux of it all lies in discovering the exact right question. You know the one – about Life, the Universe, and Everything!

It sounds silly, I know, to revolve my life around a science fiction novel, but I can’t help it. If 42 is indeed the Answer, then I want to be ready. I want my mind well prepared for when the question comes. So I’ve put in some serious time lately, thinking about all the little things that make up my life, the universe, and everything. I’ve turned off the auto-pilot and have instead made an effort to examine things head-on. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of all consuming way. An introspective hole sort of way.

Now don’t laugh. I’m not expecting to have it “all figured out” by the time I reach 42, but I do feel like I should have a pretty good grasp on what makes me tick. And mostly I do. The challenge, I’m realizing, is cutting out all of the clutter and fluff that gets in the way. It’s a lot of work keeping the landing strip clear.

I’ll be careful here, because I am still teetering on the edge of my hole. But this lead up to 42 has taught me something about myself. We live in a world that continually offers us more. The access that most of us have to places, people, music, food, literature, art, information, and stuff of all sorts is absolutely stunning. And that’s good, right?

hot compost

Maybe, but it can also be overwhelming. It’s taken me a lot of work to discover that what I really want is less. Less of the empty noise for sure, but even less of all the brilliant things that are right at my fingertips. The fact that we can tap into so much, so frequently sometimes leaves me feeling a little diluted. I have to admit that some days I crave a smaller world.

As 42 approaches, that’s what I’m after. Deliberate smallness. I figure the best way to invite less into my life is to be mindful. To remember that it’s possible (more likely even) to find richness in the ordinary. To turn off distractions and tune into exactly what is in front of me. Because with all probability, the the real question is lurking someplace as innocuous as my compost pile.

party-compost

rejecting rejection

I am momentarily trapped in one of those “when it rains it pours” patterns. I’ve got some really terrific projects I’m working on, but (despite my best efforts) they all sort of collided at once, landing in a big ol’ heap on my desk. So I’ve been left bobbing along, doing my best to keep my head above water. Which is why the pig-pen here has seen a little neglect lately.

More often than not, working as a freelancer wins in the advantages category. I highly recommend it. That said, I know there will be times when I work late every night and put in a full weekend to boot. This is one of those times. So when I was having dinner with friends last Friday night and talk of a Sunday afternoon dog skijoring outing came up, I thought it would be a perfect break in a weekend otherwise spent chained to my computer. “Count me in!” I said, a little over enthusiastically.

homeward-bound

As Sunday approached, I was feeling more behind than ever. Momentary waves of panic swept over me. Just keep bobbing, I assured myself. Just keep bobbing. I left a message for my friend Julie, explaining that due to an increasing grip that was taking hold of my chest, I needed to bail out of skiing. She promptly replied with an e-mail. “I reject your rejection,” she wrote. “A couple of hours in the great outdoors will be perfect for relieving tightness in the chest.”

She had a point. I called her back and agreed with one condition. “Give me Juliette and we have a deal.” I countered. See, the thing about skijoring with Julie is that you have your pick of nine dogs. She and her husband Charly own a team of Siberian huskies. Juliette is the current matriarch of their kennel. At thirteen years old, she has put in her share of trail miles. In people years, this puts her well into her nineties. But you’d never guess it. Her enthusiasm to run still shines bright. She is inspiration at it’s finest. But here’s the real kicker. She’s also lost an eye to glaucoma. Which is where my special admiration for her comes in. If old Juliet can run the trails with one eye, so can I! I hope I remember this wisdom when I’m ninety.

As is often the case when undertaking an excursion with Julie and Charly, there was no shortage of logistical details. We grouped up at Julie and Charly’s place to load skis and skijoring gear into their Prius. Julie was already up at the kennel, harnessing dogs and preparing to send our young friend Jack off on his maiden solo voyage with the team. Meanwhile, Charly escorted our gang of 6 skijorers in their Suburban to a nearby logging road where Jack would meet us with the team. After having got Jack off and running, Julie would follow behind in the Prius with the gear. Once all reunited, we would dole out the dogs and be on our way down the trail.

jack-jaques

Jack and company arrived at our meeting spot without a hitch, but as we were moving the dogs from the sled to the picket line we had staked out, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no Juliet. Before I could even shrug off my disappointment, Julie pulled up in her little blue Prius with Juliette riding shotgun. I laughed and felt the grip on my chest loosen. This is what best friends are made for.

One by one, we hooked up dogs to skiers and shot off down the trail. Juliette and I set forth onto a quiet trail of blue skies, full sun, and double digit temps. It took approximately 53 seconds before I was struck with the “this is so perfect, I never want this to end” sensation. So instead of thinking of the ending, I focused on the shadows in the snow, and on Juliette’s back right paw that would kick out every eight or ninth stride, and on the cool wind that mingled with my warm skin. I focused on being alive in the woods. Then I wondered how Julie got so smart.

We met up as a group at our predetermined turn-around point for water and a rest. Just when I thought things could in no way get any better, my friend Ted tossed me a salted nut roll. How did I manage to get such smart friends? We turned back and Juliette stayed true to the end. When it came time to hook the team back up for their trek home, she was right in there, barking in anticipation. I held her back and assured her that riding home in the Prius was the better choice. She turned to look at me through her one bright eye and flooded me with her enthusiasm. And that was it, I knew it would all be okay. I can keep on bobbing.

juliet

For more perspectives of this epic dog adventure, visit honest dog and the cookery maven.

kick in the pants

I’ve been putting off writing. Because every time I sit down, there is only one thing that presents itself in forefront of my brain. And this “thing” immediately leads to a sad, twisted up knot in my stomach. But I’ve finally decided to stop fighting and go face to face with it.

gitche gumee

My friend Hannah is suffering a terrible loss. Last week she lost her very best best friend. Her husband. Here was a man who was a constant example of what it really means to live the life you love. Tragically and unexplainably, the untamable waters of Lake Superior took the life he was so passionate about. Jimmy only got 34 years in. But he made the most of them. And Hannah, through her grief, is graceful enough to embrace the fact that Jim died doing something he loved. Ice fishing.

If Hannah can find solace in this, shouldn’t I too be able to focus on this tiny pin-prick of light? I see it, but it keeps darting around. Because no matter how you cut it, I just don’t want Hannah to have to accept a new reality. Like always though, Hannah is charging though life, already ten steps ahead of me. I don’t know who poured all of the strength into this petite, firecracker of a woman, but she is brimming with it. And that, at least, is something that brings me hope.

I’ve been ruminating all week on what it means to be passionate. It’s not an easy topic (at least not for me, anyway, and I’m fairly enthusiastic about life). How do you find your true passion? And once you’ve found it, how do you incorporate into your life? In essence, how do you become your passion? And what do you do if you get stuck along the way? I don’t know the answers, but I figure I owe it to Jim, to Hannah, and to myself to really put some effort into it. We all do. Image a world where everyone radiates such a love of living.

Jim “got it.” He figured out the answers to these complex questions. And Hannah gets it too. She credits Jim for teaching her how to love life and never do something you don’t love, but I know they fueled each other on this. The truly amazing thing, though, is that I’m pretty sure this tragedy will only set Hannah’s flame for life even higher. That’s how well she gets it.

And if that isn’t a kick in the pants to give your life an honest to goodness assessment, I don’t know what is. I’m continuing to send every drop of love and strength I have to Hannah, but now – I realize – it’s with my eyes wide open, my ears pricked, and my heart a little more exposed. I’ve been slapped with the message that it’s time to sit up and pay attention. And at the moment, there are only two people I can thank for the call.

pie for hannah

Hannah needs love and support, but she also very clearly needs chocolate. Preferably topped with Nutella.

Brownie Pie for Hannah
From Momofuku’s Milk, Christina Tosi

Graham Crust

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup (20 grams) milk powder
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) kosher salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 55 grams) butter, melted<
1/4 cup (55 grams) heavy cream

In a medium bowl, toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar and salt with your hands to evenly distribute the dry ingredients.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Let cool slightly and whisk in the cream. Add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. If it is not moist enough, melt an additional 1 tablespoon of butter and add it to the mixture. Set aside.

Pie Filling

4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) bitter sweet chocolate
6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter
2 eggs
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (40 grams) flour
3 tablespoons (25 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
1/2 cup (110 grams) heavy cream

Press about 1 1/4 cups of the the graham crumb mixture into a 10-inch pie pan, working it evenly up the sides. Add another 1/4 or so of crumbs if you need to fill in anywhere. Set the remaining graham crumb mixture aside.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and gently melt them together on low heat. Stir until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs and sugar and whip together on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow and has reached the ribbon state. (To test, drag the whisk or a spatula through the mixture – it should form a thickened, silky ribbon that falls and then disappears into the batter.)

Switch to the paddle attachment and slowly drizzle the chocolate mixture into the eggs on low speed, then increase the speed to medium for about 1 minute Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt and paddle on low speed for another minute or so until there are no clumps. Stream in the  cream on low speed, mixing for 30 to 45 seconds, until the cream is just mixed in.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of the remaining graham crumbs into the batter. (This means you will have a small bowl of crumbs leftover that makes a delightful little pinch snack.)

Fill the pie crust with the filling, put the pie pan on a sheet pan and bake in a 350º F oven for about 25-30 minutes until the pie is slightly puffy and set in the middle.

Cool and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar. Or, (particualarily if you are making this pie for Hannah) spread a thin layer of Nutella over the top.

empty shell

sock it to me

This past July, when I was celebrating my forty first birthday, my friend Julie gave me a pair of socks. And until recently, they’ve been hanging out in the back of my closet with the tag still attached. People who know me well can tell you that I am nearly always barefoot. It has to be really cold and bleak before I get the urge to put on a pair of socks, let alone shoes. These same people know, though, that when I finally don a pair, I take the event seriously. Nothing beats a really good pair of socks.

sock pile

Luckily, Julie knows me like a book. She knew her gift would have its day. The socks she gave me are loaded with good attributes. They are the perfect thickness – sturdy, but not so thick they’ll stretch out those shoes that I never wear anyway. And they’re knee-highs. Which I love. Every year, about two weeks into the Wisconsin long underwear season, I start getting claustrophobic just getting dressed in the morning. Knee highs provide a marvelous respite from long underwear and tights. A little extra warmth, but not so constrictive.

 Julie is also aware of my weakness for anything striped, so not surprisingly, the socks she picked for me have stripes. But not just any stripes. Big, bold, stripes – pink, maroon (an excellent color combination right there) alternating with green and white. If you’re as choosy about your socks as I am, you might be starting to think these sound like darn nice socks. And they are. But just wait. It gets even better. Here’s the punch. Each sock has a neon pink lightening bolt going down shin. 

shizam!

Now, I’ve never had an actual pair of super-hero socks before, but I’m here to tell you – they are positively transformative. Phone call you don’t want to make? Appointment you’ve been dreading? Proposal you want to knock out of the park? Slip into your super-hero, lightning bolt socks. I swear they help. It’s like the come infused with a surge of super-hero power. I don’t know how they do it, but they do.

“They” in this case are the good people at Sock it to Me, my new favorite sock company. Not that I had a former favorite sock company. But that hardly matters. I was so intrigued with my new super-hero socks that I saved tag with their website. I never save clothing tags.

But since I did, my sister-in-law got some kickin’ black and white derby socks for Christmas. My husband Mark, a fish biologist, got art deco fish socks. Oh, and a pair of Lucha libre wrestling socks. He teaches high school sophomores after all. My brother was the recipient of a much more modest, crew style, super hero sock in black and green. And my nieces? One got owls and the other got a pair that are now on my personal must-have list: PB&J. I’m sorry, but who wouldn’t feel better with a pair of peanut butter and jelly socks? Especially ones where the peanut butter is holding jelly’s hand, and jelly has a cute little pink bow? I suppose if you can’t wear super-hero socks every day. PB&J socks are a decent alternative.

The older I get, the more I understand just how little of the universe is actually within my control (as much I sometimes beg otherwise). But my socks? My socks are free domain. Life is simply too short to diddle with below average socks. So go ahead, sock it to me life! I can take it.

socks hanging

sweet sixteen

Ouch. I’m forty one years old and until two weeks ago, I never fully appreciated how amazing useful tendons are. In particular the one that runs through your wrist and makes your fingers work. I’m paying the price for my nonchalant attitude. My left wrist is in full rebellion. According to my miracle worker massage therapist, I need to rest my fickle little tendons by not using my hand. At all. Since I can’t do anything useful in the kitchen, and because it’s my cat’s birthday, I thought I’d give him a little face time. Don’t worry, it will be short. I’m typing one handed.
hoops
He’s appeared on these pages before, but that’s Hoops above as a little tyke (pretty chic carpet, huh?). He and his three siblings were delivered into this world in a cardboard box in my cabin in northern Maine (the cabin did not have tri-color green shag – in case you were wondering).
He’s lived in 3 states, 10 houses, and has gone through customs twice. Only once did he accidentally get lost and go back to a former home we had moved out of. He waited in the barn until we came to drive him home.
As an adolescent he spent a lot of time in a maple tree. At first we thought he was stuck. After about three “rescues” though, we realized that he just liked to sit in the maple tree. That’s him, three branches up on the left.
hoops in tree
He can hear a chip bag open from any room in the house. Given the choice between a tortilla chip and a scrap of meat, he’ll take the chip. That’s what I’d choose too. Hoops and I eat lot of chips together. Sometimes we have to go on a no-chip diet to keep our figures in check.
Two years ago he survived his one and only major medical calamity. Dental plaque build up fueled a raging kidney infection. We should have brushed.
I’m not at all sure how, but he discovered vitamin E as a kitten and has been crazy for it ever since. He has his own stash of E-50’s and will do anything to knock the jar out of your hand.
At night he sleeps on my head. In the morning he bites my elbow. Just in case I’m not aware that it really is indeed morning.
He’s been late for breakfast exactly twice. Once when he was waiting in the barn of our old house. And once when he had a raging kidney infection.
He comes when he is called and follows along on walks. He can get himself into a lap faster than anybody’s business. I’m pretty sure he is part Buddha.

hoops

And today, my old pal turns sweet sixteen. We’re having chips for dinner. Maybe tomorrow we’ll go for his license.